I can’t remember the last time I went more than 24 hours without thinking or saying something cruel about my body. Based on my interactions with friends, female relatives and the World Wide Web, this mentality is not entirely unusual for a woman. Which is sad. Like, sadder than the shooting scene in Bambi sad.
And worse, it makes me feel like a fraud—because as a feminist, I really do believe that people of all sizes and shapes have the right to love their bodies. I just can’t figure out how to extend the same courtesy to myself.
“Fat talk” is a language I am very comfortable speaking. The answer to someone’s question about how many calories are in a bagel rolls off my tongue as instinctively as the Pledge of the Allegiance. Last week, I caught my reflection in a store window, and instead of admiring the very cool outfit I had assembled or acknowledging how cozy my brilliant mind looked underneath my hair, the first thing that occurred to me was how I wished my stomach were flatter.
I knew I couldn’t face bikini season like that. So I decided to go on a diet. Except instead of cutting calories (been there, done that—it’s about as pleasant as sea lice), I would cut the “fat talk.”
For one week, I lived by the following rules:
1) No verbalizing negative thoughts about my body or anyone else’s body.
2) No thinking negative thoughts about my body or anyone else’s body (to the best of my ability—because obviously I can’t always control what pops into my demon head!)
3) No indulging in body-shaming ~materials~ (i.e. if I see a link to an article about “How to Slim Down Your Left Pinky in 10 Days,” I am not allowed to click it.)
I figured the first rule would be a piece of cake (anti-diet pun intended). But four hours into the diet, when I was texting with a couple of friends and the conversation started to spin into half-joking-half-serious quips about losing weight for summer, I froze. Was I supposed to opt out of the discussion and wait for it to pass? Change the topic completely?
Panicking, I went with option C: act like a Kindergarten teacher on ecstasy! Typing rapidly, I texted, “Your bodies are beautiful and so are your BRAINS.” I hated sounding so fake, but apparently no dieter is exempt from artificial sweetener.
Following the second rule was a whole different ball game. I was braced for the expected triggers, like going to a workout class with wall-to-wall mirrors or trying on jeans or eating a big dinner. But it was shattering to discover that even the most benign activities were minefields. I could be lying on my couch reading a book about Italy in the 1970s and poof! I’d catch a glimpse of my thighs, and my pre-programmed insult factory would whir to life.
Sometimes I laughed at myself for even beginning to entertain these kinds of thoughts. Other times, I felt sad and very tired. Avoiding daily “fat thoughts” was harder than avoiding Game of Thrones spoilers on a Monday morning. I needed to rethink my strategy.
Which brings me to rule #3. I decided to add an additional clause: not only would I shun body-shaming clickbait, I would also treat my mind like a wounded chipmunk and administer Bactine in the form of copious body-positive articles, videos, images and tweets. I would crowd out the bad thoughts and slot in the good, Easy Bake Oven-style.
So I did. For the remaining days of the diet, I saturated my head space with as much self-esteem as it could hold. And on the seventh day, I rested.
I won’t lie and say that the “fat talk” diet cured me of my “fat talk” habit completely. My body-shaming proclivities run deeper than a Kiddie Pool, and I’m still stitching up my life vest. But there is one change worth noting. For the past day or so, whenever a bad thought flits through my head, it feels kind of stale. Like a laugh track on an old sitcom that could, and probably should, be snipped from the reel.
My final takeaway is this: Unlike any other diet I’ve ever tried, the “fat talk” diet left me with the exact same body–not fatter, not thinner, just the same delightful skin sack filled with all the mushy organs that keep me alive.
Collages by Emily Zirimis.